Sunday, September 13, 2009

Things People Say to my Dog

I’m a charming conversationalist. I make sure to read the newspaper everyday to stay abreast of current events (Orlando Bloom's New Gal Pal!) and keep a special eye out for interesting stories I can use as conversation starters (Scientists Discover that Dolphins Name Themselves!). I have a non-threatening physical presence, warm smile, and wear pleasant, sorbet-colored shirts. I know three different sure-fire ice-breakers ("Did you hear about the overweight polar bear? He broke the ice—hi, my name's Doogie), a ton of jokes, and one magic trick involving clothespins (which I always carry, just in case).

My dog walks around naked, has pee breath, and cannot speak a single word of English (or Spanish), but people still prefer talking to him than me. Squatting to shit on the sidewalk, he makes a better first impression than I do wearing a tuxedo and handing out free ice cream. Strangers will often stop us during our walks and hold lengthy, one-sided conversations with my dog without ever acknowledging my presence, other than to ask me his name; his name is Toby, but sometimes I’ll tell people his name is Doogie, so the conversation at least takes on the illusion of involving me. When people ask Toby questions—the same stupid questions over and over—it’s unclear whether I’m supposed to answer for him, or stand in dumb silence, holding his leash. It’s not dissimilar from someone walking up and starting a conversation with your shoes or wristwatch. 

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not jealous of my dog—seriously, I have way more friends than him (If you don’t count his Facebook friends. He especially makes a big deal out of the fact that he’s Facebook friends with Mr. T., even though I’m almost positive it’s not the real Mr. T.) 
And I can’t help but think that the daily grooming and jaunty little bandana I put on him is an integral part of his charm. I do feel kind of bad for him, because when people talk to him, he can’t talk back—although he can communicate eloquently non-verbally. (See Figure 1: Nonverbal Dominance Assertion.)

Of course, dogs’ inability to talk actually increases their charm. They can’t judge you, challenge your politics, or condescendingly question your employment status (“I wasn’t fired, I’m on furlough.”). If people actually wanted talking dogs, we would have them. It’s an open secret that the technology to read certain animals’ minds, including dogs, has been around since the 1960s, when the government developed it as part of their Cold War Bovine Interrogation Program. I know that sounds unbelievable, and I’d explain the mechanics to you, but it would be way over your head. (See Figure 2: Other Stuff You Wouldn’t Understand, Even if I Explained it to You.)

1. Atoms
2. Anti-matter
3. Electrolytes
4. Floam
5. The opposite sex
6. Rap music
7. Nuclear whatever
8. Lasers
9. Imaginary numbers
10. Gaydar

Anyways, what scientists discovered is that dogs are pretty much thinking what you think they are, although they’re surprisingly snarky when it comes to questions about their pedigree. 

Personally, my favorite aspect of talking to dogs is that it’s one of the few crazy behaviors that you can indulge in public, besides organized sports, which I enjoy far less, because sports involve sweat. You can walk up to a stranger’s dog and talk to them in a weird high-pitched voice as you stroke their face and—surprisingly, illogically—it’s socially acceptable. Same thing with babies. That baby can’t understand a word you say, but nobody would let that stop them from complimenting his hat, asking if he wants to be a fireman when he grows up, or pretending to steal and eat his nose. (See Figure 3: How Crazy are You for Talking to the Following People, Animals, and Inanimate Objects?)

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